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October iron shipments boosted by domestic, international trade

The iron ore trade was up again in October thanks to a hearty domestic appetite and inflated international exports.

U.S. lakers increased iron shipments by 9.4 percent last month, while Algoma Central Corp., Canada's largest ship operator, said it has seen a 20 percent increase in its dry-bulk business this year largely propelled by ore.

"We've seen strong volumes in many of our cargoes, but particularly iron ore pellet exports from Minnesota that our ships are carrying to the Port of Quebec for transshipment overseas," Algoma Chief Operating Officer Gregg Ruhl said in a news release Tuesday. "We expect those exports to continue in the fourth quarter. Our ships are fully booked for the rest of the 2017 shipping season."

Ships carried 5.8 million tons of iron ore across all Great Lakes ports in October, with 1.9 million of that coming from the Twin Ports and another 1.9 million originating from Two Harbors, according to the Lake Carriers' Association.

U.S. ports are now more than 4 million tons above the five-year average so far in 2017, having sent 45.4 million tons of iron ore down the St. Lawrence Seaway this year — also a five-year high.

Canadian ports Sept Iles and Port Cartier are notably quieter and 1.2 million tons behind their combined average this year.

Shipping activity overall is up 6.8 percent this year, according to the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., which reported 3,159 vessel transits through October compared with 2,958 at this point in 2016. That's not expected to slow down, heading into the final months of the shipping season.

"The next couple of months are traditionally the busiest of the year with customers stockpiling raw materials for winter production," Bruce Burrows, president of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, said in a news release Tuesday. "We're optimistic 2017 will end on a positive note."

Brooks Johnson

Brooks covers business and the economy for the Duluth News Tribune.

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